WEDNESDAY, Dec. 6, 2006 - Levi Denham

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Solving time: 9:43

THEME: "Land bridge" - theme answers are all two-word phrases, wherein the words in the phrase are spanned or "bridged" by the word TERRA, Latin for "land," e.g. 41A: Intruder in Mr. McGregor's garden (PeTERRAbbit)

Felt like I flailed around inside this puzzle quite a bit, but it got done somehow. Once again, I did not see the theme until I was finished. Not only that, I thought for sure, as I was solving the puzzle, that the theme had something to do with double letters. The double letters in the two long Down answers (HUBBA HUBBA and INTERMEZZO) caused me mistakenly to believe that they were somehow theme answers as well - throw in the double letters in ESTELLE, MATT, ABAA, WHIRRS, RAZZ, DO OVER, etc. and you can (sort of) see the basis of my misapprehension. In fact the theme description, LANDBRIDGE, was about the last answer to fall, first, because I just could not think of what the clue, "Continental connection," could be getting at, and second, because I had ROAD TAR as a cross coming down (instead of the correct 43D: Track foundation (road bed)), putting "T" where the "B" should be in LANDBRIDGE, so I lost time somewhere in there pondering what LANDT- could be. Also, for a time, had OUTERBANKS where OUTERRANKS (17A) should have been, bogging me down a bit in the NW. "Land bridge" is a very cute theme, with which I have one major quibble (discussed below). Plus the grid in general is fun and lively: I especially like how PEORIA (14A: Illinois River city) stands in 180-degree rotational symmetrical relationship to EAST L.A. (64A: Calif. barrio locale). Nice geographical dissonance.

15D: "_____ tu," aria sung by Renato (Eri)

I just got through saying, in a very recent commentary, that ERI TU (and its component parts) is klassic krosswordese that I haven't seen much of since the Maleska era. And yet here it is again. Can we put this one back in the vault for a while. Otherwise it will get a taste for freedom and start talking about "rights" and demanding representation and what not. Back in the Pantheon basement with you, ERI TU. If I had my way, you'd have lots of opera company (see LOTTE, LILLI, etc.). Glad to see 32D: Perfume name (Estée) back in the grid, if only because she is on my short list of Pantheon nominees (which I will publish shortly) and I was beginning to get a little worried that my faith in her was ill-founded. She couldn't have timed her appearance any better. Not that thrilled that she was made to run parallel to the similar-sounding 42D: English-born centenarian actress Winwood (Estelle), but whatever. I was also not so thrilled to see ESTEE's perfume counterpart, 3D: Perfume name (Coty), in the puzzle. In general, I don't like repeat clues. It's as if construction inelegance (two very similar items in same puzzle, e.g. ULNAS and RADII) is trying to pass itself off as intentional trickery. Feels cheap. Cheap like COTY perfume.

31A (THEME): Hip-hop subgenre (gangsTERRAp)

Here is the one part of the puzzle that bothers me. The proper term is GANGSTA RAP. Now, there is no question that GANGSTER RAP is, technically, legitimate fill, as I find many sources that list that term as a variant, but GANGSTER RAP is basically what white people who don't like, don't listen to, and don't respect rap in general will call any rap that scares them (which is to say, most rap). This is one of the reasons that the -ER bugs me. It smacks of white condescension. Not that much so-called "gangsta rap" isn't total crap and worthy of all kinds of criticism ... and not that you can't find the term "gangstER rap" on t-shirts, albums, and what not, if you look. But if you Google ["gangsta rap"], you get 1.52 million hits. Do the same for ["gangster rap"], and not only do you get just 243K hits, but many of those mention "gangster" only by way of conceding it as a variant. I know you need the -ER for your theme, so fine. But most people who actually listen to rap would not refer to this "subgenre" as "gangstER." There is at least one other word I can think of where the difference between an -ER and an -A ending can make a substantive difference in terms of meaning, but it's not a word this white man is inclined to put anywhere in his blog.

39A: Simple rhyme scheme (abaa)

It's simple alright. So simple that I Never See it. What is in ABAA? I had ABAB and ABBA here before the Down cross 35D: Of the flock (laic) forced me to concede this weird-looking scheme. The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, the Air Barrier [?] Association of America, and the Australian Business Aircraft Association all want to know what's wrong with them? What are they, chopped liver?

40A: Arctic explorer John (Rae)

First: wow, there's another way to clue RAE!? That's great news for RAE, which could find its Pantheon status bumped up if this new (to me) clue leads to more grid appearances. Second: Who? RAE was a Scottish physician who explored Canada's arctic in the mid-19th century. He made contact with the Inuit. Not sure how that went. Whoa - he was investigating the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin Expedition, and discovered evidence that members of that expedition had, in desperation, resorted to cannibalism. This was not news anyone wanted to hear. Best factoid about RAE: he at one point in his life accepted a position as surgeon in the best-named place on earth: Moose Factory, Ontario.

Two other very modern answers are gunning for Pantheon status here as well: 44A: Singer DiFranco (Ani) and 54D: Part of a home entertainment system (HDTV) are increasingly common fill, or seem to be, to this solver. Ending in "I" is a big help for ANI (about a quarter of the words on my soon-to-be-released nominees list end in "I") and HDTV gets you that great cavalcade of consonants. [late addendum: in this discussion of potentially Pantheonic words, I totally neglected to mention poor AGAR over there at 27D. Good ol' reliable AGAR. So common, so overlooked. I wouldn't know an AGAR if it bit me. To me, a "thickening agent" would be ... well, if Roger Moore had let himself go by the time he made "Octopussy," he could have been a thickening agent. But he was a well-appointed hunk of suave manhood in that movie, as in all his movies, so the term doesn't apply.]

60D: 1990's Indian P.M. (Rao)

Another stumper. I really should get out and / or read more. A "statesman, scholar, and polyglot" (wicked good word for an epitaph), PV Narasimha Rao took over India's Congress following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May of 1991. He died in late 2004. I have nowhere to go with this entry. It's more of a public service announcement to the informationally-challenged solvers of the world, such as myself. John RAE and Prime Minister RAO - tuck them away in your puzzling ruck sack for limited but possibly significant future use.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Xyph 10:15 AM  

I just started getting into the NYT crossword a few weeks ago (paper version), and I must say I thoroughly enjoy your blog. In addition to letting me verify my answers without having to wait a whole day, I love the wonderful little insights you provide. Keep it up!

Rex Parker 11:19 AM  


Glad you like the blog. I miss doing the paper version. I haven't solved the newspaper-version of the puzzle since the 90s. Strangely, when I did so, I lived much farther from NYC (in Michigan, to be precise) than I do now, but then, I used to, uh, borrow newspapers from a cafe. Today, subscription = too expensive for my blood. Comics take priority. -RP

Orange 4:31 PM  

ANI has some hardcore gangsta crosswordese cred—used to be clued as "black cuckoo," some sort of bird. Between Ms. DiFranco and "I'd like to buy AN I, Pat," ANI is here to stay.

"What's the vowel sound in roast? It's AN OA."—Now, that would be pushing it. The Celebes ox remains in the crossword graveyard.

Anonymous 5:27 PM  

I'm crestfallen, Rex. Lurked by your blog this morning "purely" to see which bodacious siren you were going to offer up for the HUBBA-HUBBA ramble, and all I get is candy.

Gimme eye-candy, man! Or you've lost a subscriber.

Anonymous 10:52 PM  

This is a great blog! I must also say that it is very useful as well. I am fairly new to the Crossword game and really appreciate the way you flesh out some of the answers. I'll be checking this site out every day.

Rex Parker 7:13 AM  

MT -

Thanks. Come back as often as you like. I'm happy to do whatever I can to get new solvers hooked and keep 'em hooked. Feel free to comment whenever and however you like.


Anonymous 10:01 AM  

Edvard Munch's birthday was yesterday. Why is The Scream still up today? No idea.

Anonymous 1:15 PM  

I love the NYTimes Crossword puzzle. Found your blog as I was looking up something I didn't know. And, yes, a lot of puzzlers will call that cheating. I call it learning. Love your blog.


Linda G 3:45 PM  

Even when I finished this, I didn't see that TERRA was in all theme answers -- only noticed the double R. Wasn't sure if 24A was Knight Errant or Knighter Rant, so thought it possible that one word ended with R and the second began with it. Glad to be finished with it. Subscribed to NYT online so I can start doing the current puzzle. I already hate today's but won't check your blog until I give up this evening.

Rex Parker 4:23 PM  

Hurray for subscribing, Linda G! Welcome to the future - which is to say, the present.


Chance 9:24 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
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